By Heather Beyer
Special to the Beacon Journal
STOW: Talk of privatizing student busing in Stow-Munroe Falls has the district’s drivers concerned.
The district has sent a letter to the labor relations consultant with the Ohio Education Association indicating that the district was considering outsourcing the transportation of students beginning with the 2013-14 school year.
The Board of Education “intends to exercise its right ... to outsource its transportation services,” states the June 13 letter sent to OEA.
The district is awaiting proposals from two companies — First Student and Peterman — based in Cincinnati.
District officials say it is within their right under Ohio law to outsource busing for “reasons of economy and efficiency.”
“We want to make sure that all of our employees are kept whole as a result of this and that all of our employees be employed by whichever company that we choose,” said Superintendent Russell Jones. “That is the employees’ decision ultimately, but that is one of the stipulations that we would have that their compensation remains whole and that they have the opportunity to be employed as drivers or in other positions in transportation that they currently hold within the company.”
The Ohio Revised Code stipulates that the district is not required to bargain over such a decision as long as it is implemented after a contract expires or within 60 days of a contract expiration.
“The school districts are not required to bargain to outsource transportation,” Jones said. “They are required to bargain over the ‘effects’ of that decision. If we were to take this step the employees would be employed by the company that would take over the transportation service.”
Jones said that drivers would “very likely” remain with their routes with a new company.
The move has left many drivers upset and prompted some to voice their displeasure to the school board late last month.
“This is very important to some of us [whose] livelihoods depend on this,” said driver Tom Luneke. “Some people are playing with this like it is nothing and it’s very serious.”
District Treasurer Catherine Bulgrin said the board is exploring the possible switch and has offered to meet with the union.
Teamsters Local 24 filed an unfair labor practice charge against Jones with the State Employment Relations Board June 17.
The case filed by Teamster Local 24 Joint Council 41 Rick Kepler alleges that Jones “changed the working conditions of the employees by threatening to outsource the transportation department” as the workers were set to vote this month over whether to switch to the Teamsters union.
“The superintendent cannot make that decision unilaterally,” Kepler said. “[It] has to be voted on by the board of education that was elected by the citizens.”
Kepler said the bus drivers are concerned about the effects of outsourcing transportation on the students.
“These bus drivers know the kids, the parents trust them because they know that they are employed by the school district,” Kepler said. “The drivers get to know the kids, they know their needs, they know them by name and they see them every morning for the whole nine months that they are going to school.
“You get these private companies and all it is [is] a job to them.”
Jones said the district has a responsibility to use tax dollars wisely. He did not say how much such a change would save.
“We are always looking for ways to save our taxpayers dollars and make what we have last as long as possible,” he said.